The Music Legend That Was David Bowie

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Following yesterday’s sad news on the passing of David Bowie, I was asked to write a short piece for the Canterbury Times. Click here to read it online.

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Past Christmas

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With only a week to go until the big day arrives, I thought I would take a look back at Christmas during my favourite decade, so here are my festive Eighties’ memories:

1980

Following John Lennon’s fatal shooting at the beginning of December, I have an overwhelming memory of his music being played over the Christmas period. My dad bought Jona Lewie’s “Stop The Cavalry” on 7” vinyl, so that also got played a lot, and was usually accompanied by all my family singing along at full volume to the chorus. No wonder I looked so thrilled to meet Jona earlier this year!

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1981

“Don’t You Want Me” by Human League may have been the Christmas No.1, but the record Santa left me on the big day was Cliff Richard’s “Daddy’s Home”! Boxing Day was spent at the Whitbread Social Club in Faversham, with songs like “The Birdie Song” by the Tweets and “Hokey Cokey” by the Snowmen on the jukebox. We returned home in the early evening to watch Russ Abbot’s Christmas Madhouse, featuring characters such as Basildon Bond and Cooperman.

1982

A memorable, transitional year for me, which saw me have my first Christmas as a pupil at Simon Langton Girls’ School in Canterbury. Most of the schools finished at lunchtime to start the Christmas break, and pupils from across the city would congregate in the bus station amid a frenzy of silly string and spray snow. 1982 was the year animated film The Snowman was released, and it was also when I became obsessed with Boy George, as shown in my homage to him.

1982

1983

The year when the world went mad for Cabbage Patch Kids! Footage of shoppers fighting over the dolls, which came with their own ‘adoption certificate’, even made headline news. My own Christmas wish list (which was fulfilled) included Paul Young’s “No Parlez” album and a bright red ghetto blaster. Inspired by chart-topping Flying Pickets, friends and I would practice our acapella singing of “Only You”.

1984

Christmas ’84 is easily summed up in two words – “Band Aid”. The world of pop music piqued the consciousness of a generation and, in an age of conspicuous consumption, Christmas came to mean much more than our own individual needs. I still have my most prized gift from this year, the making of Band Aid video. Unfortunately, I can no longer watch it, as it’s on Betamax.

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1985

The year I received my music centre, complete with turntable, radio and double tape deck. This led to my obsession with vinyl being closely followed by a preoccupation with creating mixed tapes. Whilst I was upstairs listening to everything from Immaculate Fools’ “Hearts of Fortune” to Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” LPs, my family were downstairs listening to Nan’s favourite, Shakin’ Stevens, singing “Merry Christmas Everyone”.

 

1986

The return of acapella singing, this time in the form of The Housemartins’ “Caravan of Love”, and attempting to roll our Rs, whilst singing along to Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”. Christmas Day this year saw us experimenting with creating cocktails. Just for the record, Baileys and lemonade doesn’t mix!

1987

My first Christmas in the sixth form, which afforded us the privilege of sitting on the stage during assembly, singing Wham!’s “Last Christmas” whilst covered in tinsel! This was the year my favourite Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York”, was released. However, it was kept off the top spot by “Always on My Mind” by Pet Shop Boys.

6th form Xmas

1988

My ‘reign’ as Faversham carnival queen covered Christmas 1988, and meant I got to turn on the town’s Christmas lights, along with First World War veteran Dusty Miller. It was an amazing experience to see the large crowd gathered in the Market Place, as we illuminated the town.

Xmas lights

1989

I left school in July ’89, and began working for a local accountancy firm. Our Christmas ‘do’ taught me two very important lessons for future office parties: 1) curbing your alcohol intake is always a good idea, no matter how boring it may seem at the time, 2) telling your boss a dirty joke is rarely wise, however funny you may think it is. Failure to achieve the former will invariably lead to the latter, and to much festive merriment for your colleagues!

Leaving you with those words of wisdom, all that’s left for me to say is “Merry Christmas” – have a wonderful time.

Step Into Christmas 80’s Style

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Think back to the countdown to  Christmas during the Eighties. A time when the idea of seeing Christmas cards in the shops before we had celebrated Harvest Festival at school was preposterous, and when we were still excited at the Big Day’s arrival, untouched by the three months of festive fatigue we’re likely to endure today. Even when we opened the first doors of our pictorial advent calendars (no chocolates behind the doors for us 80’s kids), Christmas still seemed like an unreachable distant promise.

For me, I always began to feel that Christmas was on its way once today had passed.  December 10th is my brother’s birthday – Happy Birthday Vince! – and 001as soon as we celebrated that, we were only ever a week or so away before the schools closed for the Christmas holidays, and the real fun started.

The week before Christmas would pass in a flurry of activity, visiting relatives and stocking up on food we would never eat at any other time of the year, like orange and lemon jelly slices and boxes of Eat Me dates. Not to mention the ritual of circling our favourite programmes in the Christmas editions of the TV and Radio Times.

My column for this week’s Canterbury Times gives more reasons why an 80’s Christmas was best. Let me know what you loved about Christmas in the Eighties…

On My Radio

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Writing my latest column for the Canterbury Times, I was reminded of just how great radio was in the Eighties. I would always take a transistor radio out with me on family trips, lest my world be bereft of music. I can remember travelling home from my grandparents’ home in Eastbourne, on a grey and rainy Sunday afternoon in 1983. Our Hillman Imp didn’t have a car radio (unsurprising when I tell you that whoever sat behind the driver had to hold onto the driver’s door whenever we turned left, to stop the door flinging wide open!), so I spent the journey waving my little yellow radio around, in an attempt to catch snippets of the Top 40, in between blasts of loud, crackling interference.

Later on in the decade, in the summer of ’85, I was listening to Laser 558 whilst my parents, brother and I lay sunbathing on the beach at Camber Sands. Our trips to the Sussex coast would always be almost military-like in their preparation. The picnic would be made the night beforehand, so that when we got up early the next morning “to make the most of the day”, everything could be whisked away into a giant coolbox, and packed into the car with the rest of the day’s paraphernalia, including windbreaks, beach mats and the obligatory frisbee, as quickly as possible. It is that swift departure which I blame for a ‘slight oversight’ one sunny, June day. You see, it was only as we were basking in the sunshine, listening to the pirate radio station, that the day’s significance became apparent. Yes, it took a DJ wishing all the dads a Happy Father’s Day, for Mum, my brother and I to realise we had forgotten something! We hadn’t forgotten completely – the cards and presents were at home – but the lazy haze of summer had got the better of us. Dad’s reaction to our shocked faces, and hastily muttered apologies, had simply been “I wondered when one of you would realise”.

So, to say “Sorry” again, but also as a “Thank You” for introducing me to their ‘High Tide And Green Grass’ album before I had even reached double figures, here are The Rolling Stones with ‘Paint It Black’. Enjoy, Dad…

That Friday Feeling

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Some days stay etched in your memory for all the right reasons. Yesterday was one of those days for me. What started off as an ordinary day turned out to be one of life’s highlights, when I discovered that ‘My Eighties’ had gone to Number 1 in both its category listings on Amazon 061115 BiogAmazon.

Having announced my good news on social media, the amazing responses I received from well-wishers, have been truly overwhelming – thank you.

My unexpected chart-topping coincided with a further announcement later that day. I had been asked by the Canterbury Times to write a weekly 80s-themed column. Yesterday afternoon saw my first piece go live online, which you can read here. Talk about having that Friday Feeling!

Today, I feel a bit like a child on Christmas evening, as I eagerly await tomorrow’s cover reveal for ‘Your Eighties’. Only one more sleep…

Band Aid 30

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It’s funny how today’s return to Sarm Studios, to record Band Aid 30, has brought memories of the recording of the original Band Aid single flooding back. The unprecedented collaboration of some of the biggesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAt names in music, and some of the biggest egos too, had me enthralled from the very beginning. Watching the news that evening in November 1984 was an overwhelming exercise in star-spotting, as the likes of Duran Duran, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, George Michael, Sting and Boy George crossed my TV screen. As Paula Yates came into view, with a big 80’s bow in her hair, carrying baby Fifi Trixibelle, I felt so envious of her behind-the-scenes access. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that I was first in the queue to buy the video of the making of the Band Aid single, to add to my collection of 7″ and 12″ singles, and Feed The World t-shirt.

Unfortunately, my family had chosen the loser in the VHS/Betamax video battle, so I’m no longer able to watch my video. I live in hope that one day I’ll find a working Betamax video player that does not cost a fortune, or is not sitting in a museum somewhere!

Band Aid Dolls

Those of you who are familiar with my writing, will know how having Mr. Geldof living nearby influenced my teenage years. However, you may not be aware of how far-reaching that influence became . I think describing my behaviour around that time as “obsessive” would not be an understatement. How many 14 year olds do you know who would spend hours creating a replica of the Band Aid line up out of wooden peg dolls??? All worth it though, when it won first prize a few months later at the Geldofs’ summer fête, and I was congratulated by Bob himself!

My obsession did have a less flippant side though, when it came to the Band Aid single itself. This manifested itself in me band aid VATorganising a petition, calling for Margaret Thatcher’s government to waive the VAT on the single. Remember, this was 1984, so no clicking online to “sign” a petition. I spent a week approaching strangers in Canterbury city centre and my home town of Faversham, as well as canvassing signatures at school, until I finally had over a thousand signatures, which I then sent to the Iron Lady.

The letter opposite was the reply I received from HM Customs & Excise in February 1985, in response to the petition. A long-winded way of saying “No”, the contents of it are summed up in its second paragraph: “The suggestion that either VAT should not be levied or that an amount equivalent to the VAT should be contributed to the relief  has been given very careful consideration by the Government but the conclusion reached is that it would be neither possible in practice – nor indeed right – to treat this fund-raising operation as a one-off case…If the principle of relief was extended generally, it would lead to a major commitment of taxpayers’ money which would have to be recouped by increases in taxation elsewhere.”

Thankfully, today’s recording will not be subject to such draconian judgement. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed this morning that VAT will be waived on the Band Aid 30 single, meaning every penny raised will go towards fighting the Ebola virus. With that in mind, I will again be one of the first in line to buy the single, even if it means having to watch the X Factor on Sunday night, when the single has its world premiere. The lengths I go to for Sir Bob!

 

Now That’s What I Call Music To My Ears

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Occasionally, my commute to the office involves bus travel. Now, I don’t mind sharing my journey to work with strangers, but what I do object to is being forced to listen to the inane conversations some people don’t seem to mind sharing with the rest of us. Even worse than being forced to listen to the thought-provoking debate as to whether nail wraps are better than acrylics, before my caffeine levels have peaked, are those travellers who can’t bear to be be alone with their own thoughts for five minutes, and spend their whole journey shouting down their mobile ‘phone. These one-sided conversations are even worse than the non-stop chatter, as the gaps in conversation lull you into a false sense of security that you may actually be about to zone out of the vocal dross. Therefore, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that my MP3 player and I have become inseparable, when I have a bus journey to face.

Recently, I got on the bus and began what has become my little ritual: rucksack on the inside seat, me on the outside (people think twice about asking to share your seat if they have to climb over you!); sunglasses on, to avoid making eye contact with my fellow travellers; earphones in, ready for Duran Duran to take me back to the summer of ’84. However, the opening bars of The Reflex were nowhere to be heard. When I looked closer at my earphones, I realised the reason why – my cat had chewed through the wire, effectively leaving me with an expensive pair of earplugs!

My journey was every bit as bad as it had always been pre-earphones, so at lunchtime I set out to buy a replacement pair. Being pushed for time, and not wanting to fight through the crowds of tourists in Canterbury, I popped into the nearest pound shop, for a makeshift pair. On my journey home, I discovered why the earphones were only a pound. In order to be able to hear anything through them, the volume had to be on full, and the quality reminded me of listening to my old Casio personal cassette player (I couldn’t afford a Sony Walkman). I loved it! As I travelled home, I travelled back to the Eighties, listening to Freddie singing about wanting to break free. It took all my self-restraint not to sing along, and become the loony on the bus who everyone tries to avoid. Now there’s an idea, to ensure some personal space on my next journey…